Text by Seng Yen Wah Photos by Chiew Lin May & Seng Yen Wah
Hi, I'm Kina!
Time has flown! Kina recently just finished her quarantine care under BSBCC and is a one year old female juvenile bear. Previously, she was kept as a pet for more than a year before her owner decided to surrender her to Sabah Wildlife Department. Her owner claimed that Kina’s mother abandoned her when they were crossing a road and her mother got frightened and ran away while leaving her behind. During that time, she was just a bear cub and had not opened her eyes yet. She showed signs of malnutrition with her relatively small head compared to her body size. With an appropriate diet in BSBCC, she now weighs 18.4kg! Her favourite foods are papaya, honeydew, egg and of course milk! Though, even with her favourites, Kina is not picky and still enjoys all the food that we have given to her!
My favourite foods are honeydew, coconut and hmm.. many more!
She has adapted well in quarantine since she arrived here at BSBCC and spends her time in her cage that is full of fire hose enrichment products such as fire hose hammock, wood hammock, and a heart-shaped honeycomb. Other than that, she also likes to play KONG, Aussie Dog Ball, and her favourite toy, the Bear Ball!! She totally is an enrichment lover. She loves to stay on the hanging platform where this allows her to stay up high and for her resting needs. The hanging platform is like her secret garden – It brings us much joy and happiness to see her bring her favourite food or toys up there to play with it.
My cage is full of fire hose enrichment products!
The Aussie Dog Ball is inside the Fire Hose Basket.
I got the Aussie Dog Ball! Let me see what is inside the ball!
I fit in the basket! And I want to bring along the Aussie Dog Ball with me!!
In order to encourage her natural bear behaviour, keepers let her out to a larger den where there will be a larger space for her to explore around and get closer to the forest. Kina will step out from her cage with utmost curiosity and will explore the environment around her from every single corner like a good inspector. She enjoys staying in a natural environment like a den that is decorated with leaves and decayed wood. Most of the time, she explores the enrichment that has been prepared in the den. Kina’s day can be so simple where even a small decayed wood can simply make her day. She just knows how to enjoy the time with her own ways by lying on the dry leaves and turning on her relax mode.
This is the new den for me!
Let me check every corner here!
Is it something here?
Or maybe here?
Finally I'm here on the 'Platform Tree'!!
Tree barks in the basket!
See! I'm so good in playing with tire!
This is the forest that I have been looking for!
Closer to the forest make me hyperactive!
Let me introduce this is my favourite enrichment, bear ball!
I like to bring the bear ball with me!
Natural environment make me feel like I'm home!
I'm enjoying with all the leaves and woods.
Make me be a happy kid!!
Dancing like an Opera!
Kina is a playful bear. The keepers will play fight with her so she can also learn some of the defence skills to protect herself later onwards. She shows her strength during the play fight that can be seen through pawing, which is a bear way of playing. However, some of the bear survival skills cannot be taught from a caretaker such as foraging, building a tree nest and so on. Hence, we plan to introduce her to a new bear friend who can teach her to become a real bear using the bear way. We one day hope that Kina will forage, build nests and stay in the wild because she truly deserves it, and deserves to be a real wild bear.
Since being rescued from a village in Sikalabaan, Sabah on February 9th 2017, Sika, a five month old, female sun bear cub, has completed her time in quarantine.
Sika is being bottle fed five times a day in FIDO dog milk replacer
She has shown tremendous growth in the last month. She is an active, healthy and beautiful female bear cub. She now weighs 7.25kg.
Chart shows the growth curve of Sika cub (Updated 4th April 2017). Showing Sika is in good health and gain more weight
The next rehabilitation phase for Sika is taking her out for walks in the forest. The problem with Sika is that she is still nervous to step out from her dens and the bonding between her surrogate mother is still weak. She was caged alone as a pet in a chicken mesh cage after losing her mother. All little Sika knew was pain and fear. She has needed to gain back confidence and trust towards her new surroundings.
To prepare her in gaining back strength, confidence and trust, we have moved Sika into a larger exercise den with an environment which is as close as possible to life in the wild. This exercise dens is full of natural habitat enrichment such as dead wood, green leaves, leafy browse, climbing structures, a platform, and treats to stimulate and prepare her for life back in the wild.
Bear care team are help to setting up in various type of environmental enrichment
We gave Sika the opportunity to venture out for the very first time. Once Sika was brought to the larger exercise den, she was easily stressed by noise and paced with alert at the new larger exercise den. She kept vocalizing and was uncomfortable with it. We tried to comfort and help her adapt to the new environment by showing her new enrichment toys. Sika needed plenty of time.
Thankfully, she did it! She calmed down and adapted to it. She decided it was time to explore the whole exercise den. Sun bear cubs require a lot of exercise to practice their physical skills and grow stronger! Her courage has grown with each day and she has started exploring.
Sika naturally curious but also very alert
She becoming more playful and less nervous!
Stretching body before enter exercise dens!
She will gaze up at the nearby forest surrounding her exercise dens.
FOREST will be my HOME!
She always goes straight to the big log and pulls off its branches. After one week, we are pleased with her progress in finding the strength to venture without any hesitation.
Since little Sika was moved to larger exercise dens, she have been develop at a great rate!
Sika is learning to trust her surrogate mother without fear. She will be growing and learning under the guidance of her surrogate mother.
With great love the surrogate mother teach Little Sika how to climb tree!
She loves rolling and wrestling, and she is just so happy. Sika has excellent climbing skills. She uses her small curved claws to create a cavity in the climbing log to get the ants. Sometimes she will climb high to get a better look and avoid strange sounds! We envy her tree-climbing skills!!
Curious Sika climbs higher the platform tree
Sika is busy in digging!!
Sika digs the log hole in search of insects and leave distinctive claw marks!
We envy her tree-climbing skills!!
Little more playful!
Tired after play !
Tired after play !
Sika fun, for sure!
She is learning and experiencing that life as a wild bear can be great. She knows her tragic past is now behind her and is discovering her natural behavior. She has proven herself to be a sweet natured sun bear! We hope the next move will be taking little Sika on walks in the forest to let her experience the true Bornean environment.
Bring Sika to walk in forest in preparing Sika to live independently in her forest HOME.
Bring Sika to walk in forest in preparing Sika to live independently in her forest HOME.
Hi. My name is Barbara and I am a travel agent from Melbourne, Australia. I volunteered at the BSBCC in Sandakan for two weeks in February 2017 and not one day goes by where I don’t think back to my placement. I have so many wonderful memories and learnt so much.
I visited the Sun Bear Centre as a tourist a couple of times and I remember clearly telling my local guide that I will be back to take part in the volunteer program. Four months later I found myself in gumboots with a hose in my hand in the bear-house, sweating profusely. The whole experience was incredibly well managed by the dedicated local Ape Malaysia staff. Sumira and Mark on the ground in Sandakan are just wonderful and there was nothing we could not approach them for. Ape Malaysia has a fantastic process in place to make sure volunteers are well prepared and understand what this placement is all about.
The same goes for all the staff at the centre. I wished I could speak at least enough Malay to follow the conversations because there was always laughter in the room. Everyone was very easy going but at the same time incredibly dedicated to the purpose of the centre. I felt welcome the minute I walked in and not long after I was just one of the team.
One of the biggest challenges for me during the two weeks was to remember names and I do apologise if I don’t mention everyone I have met. It’s because I just can’t remember them all but I will come back and try harder next time. The same goes for the bears; 44 bears are a lot even though they all have distinctive chest marks. Two weeks just wasn’t enough for me to remember them all. Thank you to the keepers and Sumira for patiently showing me again and again at feeding time who was who.
We spent most our time in the bear house and someone asked me the other day, “Was it heart breaking?” It’s a valid question. I would have rather seen these beautiful animals out there in the forest where they belong but I came well prepared and with a purpose to support the staff in creating the best possible environment for the bears that cannot be released into the forest at this stage.
I must say that I was just so impressed how the whole bear house was run. It’s a huge job to look after 44 bears and everything that goes along with it, and yet there were smiling faces all around and there was always time for a little joke. I am not an expert on wildlife behaviour but I am sure the bears pick up on this positive attitude around them. Of course, many of them show typical stress behaviours which relate back to their traumatic periods while being kept as pets prior to being rescued. Apart from that the atmosphere was mostly that of contentment.
After the first few days we understood the daily routines, and started to have more and more time to concentrate on creating enrichment items. These range from structures that make the bears more comfortable, to toys out of bamboo, wood and old fire hoses which are donated to the centre. Every bear has a different personality and respond differently to enrichment items. Therefore a lot of thought goes into the creation of various structures and some of them may not turn out to be as appreciated by the bears as we hoped. After spending so much time with the bears, I did start to have a bit of a weak spot for Gutuk who has very poor vision and spends a lot of time on the ground, while other bears climb up into their hammocks to have a rest. One of our bigger enrichment projects was to build a “bear bed”. The idea was to encourage Gutuk to step off the floor and use this bed rather than the concrete floor.
In theory, it was a great idea and we were very excited to put it into action. After a little while of investigating I did catch Gutuk once with all 4 legs on the bed.
However, in the end I think the bed turned more into a toy for Chin who is Gutuk’s companion and one of the most playful bears. He had a great time standing on top trying to rip it into pieces. Sometimes the simplest things are the most successful and I think piling up lots and lots of dry leaves in Gutuk’s cage was probably more successful than building a nice piece of furniture. Staying as close to nature as possible seems to be a good approach to keep in mind.
There is a lot of trial and error when making enrichment items. The staff are open to any suggestions and will help the volunteers turn any idea into a workable option. In fact, the most memorable moments were the afternoons we all spent together crafting for the bears. It showed how much can be achieved as a team and it was just so much fun having everyone together joking around while being incredibly productive.
I would like to thank Dr Wong and all the staff at BSBCC for inviting me into the team for a short while and for Ape Malaysia who facilitate such a wonderful program.
As a travel agent specialising in responsible tourism, I have made it my goal to educate as many of my clients as possible about what a good volunteer and wildlife experience should be. I am super keen to return once a year to the BSBCC and encourage people to participate with me.
As travellers, we must start to play a role in protecting the last remaining rainforests we all crave to see and support some of these amazing people that just don’t give up and put their heart and soul into wildlife rehabilitation and conservation. You are all wonderful role models and I can’t wait to come back. In the meantime, I will talk about my experience back at home and hope to raise a little awareness about sun bear conservation.
See you all in 2018. That tree better still be there. 😉
Both male bear cubs, Nano and Noah were likely taken from their mothers and kept in tiny cages as illegal pets. When they were rescued from being illegal pets in 2016, Nano was very stressed, shy, in pain and was too fearful with the outside world,
whilst Noah was found with his milk canines crushed off for use in the illegal pet trade.
The two little cubs have had a very exciting few months! Both have moved into big dens filled with natural enrichment, and treats which keep them stimulated and healthy. This is one of the steps for the rescued bears to acclimatize themselves to living in the forest and to be given an opportunity to explore the environment and develop the skills they need to survive in the wild.
Once the door opened, Noah start peek out from the door!
Noah made his way over to an area with dried leaves and straight away started to stand on his hind legs and grab everything around him!
Noah is the outgoing and joyous bear.
Then after twenty minutes, Nano paused and was alert before stepping towards the new enriched dens!
Noah try to ask Nano to join this big playground !!
He would skim around the dens, curious about what was surrounding him - The natural enrichment!! It was such a glorious sight to see! They roamed freely and adapted quickly to their new home.
After rescue from an illegal pet, the beautiful smile on Nano when he realizes he is not alone !
Nano- have fun!!
Noah is a good, natural leader. He creates a calming and energetic atmosphere around him. He will encourage Nano to be brave and play. He became cheeky whenever he saw Nano starting to pace near the door, then he would try to push Nano and start an epic play fight! Noah did not give up and would teach Nano to fight back!
Slowly, Nano followed Noah’s footsteps, learning to be a bear again. They learned to trust each other!
Is lovely to see Nano relaxing which he deserves after all he suffered.
They still love having fun in each other’s company.
Nano stays close by Noah and learns important skills as he watches him forage for food.
They have dead wood to dig with, bear balls to play with, climbing structures to climb, fire hose baskets to forage with, a hammock to take naps in and dried leaves to roll with. They wrestle, play, forage for food, sleep at the platform and share enrichment together. Both getting stronger and more confident by the day.
Today, they wrestle, play, explore and even sleep together. They were completely in their own world!
It makes us feel sad when see these rescued sun bears suffering from pet trade. But we realized what an amazing thing it is to see how both their tragic pasts were now behind them. The important thing is Nano slowly has gained his confidence, overcome his fear and is enjoying himself every single day with his best pal, Noah. For sun bears, Noah and Nano’s lives after the horror of being kept as pets has been more than they could have hoped and now they are living the lives they were meant to live.